South Africa’s varsity players established themselves as the best in the world when they returned from the World University Netball Championships in Miami, United States, with the gold medal.
In a triumph described by NMMU sports official Melinda Goosen as the best feeling she had experienced, the SA team, which included Madibaz star Jeanie Steyn, defeated Jamaica 43-39 in a tense final.
Goosen, who is the president of University Sport South Africa (USSA) netball and headed the SA delegation, said she did not think anything could top the sight of the team winning.
“To sit back and watch the girls and coaching staff do what they do best and come out victorious is a most satisfying feeling and difficult to describe.
“I’m so proud of the team and coaching staff for what they have achieved.”
Goosen has been president of USSA netball for the past six years and was involved in the initial bid to create the tournament in 2012.
The inaugural event was held in Cape Town, with Goosen heading the local organising committee.
That year South Africa made the final, only for Great Britain to pip them in extra time by one point.
Goosen said their performance in the inaugural event motivated them to compete again in a championship which is held every second year.
“In 2014 it was supposed to take place in Jamaica, but unfortunately due to financial problems the tournament was called off,” she said.
“The second world championship was then set for Miami and our focus was always to participate in this event as it is the highest level of achievement for any student netball player.”
Goosen said the team had set the gold medal as their target, but knew it would not be easy negotiating the play-offs.
“The standard of competition was very high. We had several national players in our team, Uganda about five and Jamaica and Namibia about six each.”
She said the team had a fairly easy run in the pool matches, but the semifinals and final were much closer.
“We had to fight it out against Uganda in our semifinal and were down in the first two quarters.
“However, the players showed their character and pulled back to win convincingly by 10 goals.
“The final was a tight affair throughout. The score changed hands many times in the first two quarters before we took a four-goal lead, which we never relinquished.
“Jamaica came close on occasions but in the end the players kept their composure and pulled through.”
Goosen said their strength lay in their teamwork, with everyone focused on a common goal.
“They are such a dynamic group of players and were led by an extraordinary coaching team and support staff.
“Each individual contributed in their own way and the goal was clear from the beginning.
“One should also not forget the support we had from the families, USSA and Netball SA throughout, plus the important role the universities play in the development and management of the players to get them to this level.
“It takes years of hard work, dedication and love of the game to be able to achieve at this high level.”
Goosen said it was essential that USSA continued to compete in the world championship to provide an incentive for the players.
“It has definitely been a journey the past six years and, more so, the past six months. USSA netball definitely has a rich history and great track record and will go from strength to strength.”